1 Cor 7:12-14 - Common, Holy / Clean, Unclean

RobertPGH1981

Puritan Board Sophomore
Hello Brothers and Sisters,

1 Cor 7:12-14 ends with the passage stating that "the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy." When thinking another passage came to mind regarding Acts 10:12-15 it state, 12In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” 14But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” 15And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.”

It seems like to me this is coming from the Levitical priesthood language of common, holy / clean and unclean. Leviticus 10:10 "You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean," A few questions regarding this topic:

1. What does it mean to be common and holy?
2. What does it mean to be clean and unclean?
3. How are the two related? Can something be Holy but Unclean?

The reason I ask these questions because it had me thinking in terms of Baptism. If they mean what I think they mean then you could draw up three different categories of groups of people.

1. Unbelievers outside the Covenant community (Common, Unclean)
2. Unbelievers inside the Covenant community (Holy, Unclean)
3. Believers inside the Covenant community (Holy, Clean)
4. a fourth category is not possible since you cannot be unclean and holy

Does this sound about right? I was thinking this would be a good case for infant baptism. Although my mind also went to another section of scripture of when Ezra asks Israelite men to divorce their foreign wives (Ezra 10:3). In this instance I think it was because the foreign wives were unbelievers not part of the covenant along with their children. Interesting in hearing your thoughts on the subject.

Thanks,

Rob
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Unbelievers can only be "holy" in an administrative sense, that is their unbelief is a secret. It is not apparent, so they are treated according to their profession or according as we are obligated to see them, being members of the covenant in earthly administration, i.e. members of the church. If the unholiness is exposed, then discipline must follow. In days of old, Israelites--who were "holy" as compared to the nations around them--were also to face discipline, either to be dealt with civilly or ecclesially or both, and removed from the covenant community.

But God knows them that are his, 2Tim.2:19. Unbelievers in the church are not holy as He is holy, for they are not holy in him. The 1Cor.7 passage indicates at least three different status conditions. 1) The believer and church member, who is both a spouse and presumptively a parent. 2) The believer's spouse, who is not a believer, but experiences some positive effect from marriage to a believer. This is significant, because in the previous era an "unclean" spouse made the marriage "unclean" in some sense, and there were occasions when God approved annulling such marriages (see Ezra 9 & 10) in order to restore purity.

That has changed in the NC era. Instead of the uncleanness affecting the clean, the superior cleanness (righteousness) of the believer's union with Christ sends a kind of "sanctification" the way of the unclean unbeliever, rendering the union "clean," and not from the believer's side something to shun (if the unbeliever depart, let him depart). But, these unbelievers are not "holy;" whereas, 3) the children of the believer (and the unbelieving spouse) are holy. This is a status that is theirs of themselves, and not simply an effect of a relationship to the parent, the way the spouse experienced an effect. This is because, as in the previous era, God's promise continues: "I will be God to you and to your children."
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
1. What does it mean to be common and holy?
2. What does it mean to be clean and unclean?
3. How are the two related? Can something be Holy but Unclean?
1. There are actually three distinctions in the first degree: profane, common, and holy. A common thing is neither profane nor holy, it is not an offensive thing, nor is it something particularly "set apart" unto God. But only that which is holy--specially set apart to God--may come near to God. A common thing would "profane" the sacred space, just as a profane thing would. But a thing that is profane is something that is often irredeemable. Some common things could be set apart for holy use. But some things could under no circumstances be considered for a holy purpose. A profound change in the nature of the thing would have to occur for the profane to be anything other than worthless.

Within Israel, there were increased levels of holiness. The Levites and priests were more holy or sanctified than the average citizen, the high priest was most holy; and in that office was given access once a year to the holiest of spaces in all Israel, the Tabernacle's Holy of Holies (later of the Temple). Drawing near the presence of God required great holiness. And those who were so set apart were holy both for themselves, and for the sake of the people who had to stay further back, and had other duties to fulfill in society--duties that kept them from the dedication of holiness, and also prevented them being as clean as possible all the time. Frankly, it was less of a burden in that case, and probably they were happy to be so free. But, there was opportunity in the Nazarite vow for an ordinary Israelite to increase his holiness and special service to God for a period of time.

2. Generally, clean and unclean were statuses. A donkey, as useful as it was to men, would be unfit for any Israelite altar. See this in Ex.13:13, for example; the donkey's firstborn could not be offered up sacrificially, but a lamb was required in its place. Or else, it had to have its neck broken. It was unclean to eat, though it was not untouchable being a beast of burden like the camel. There were some animals that were absolutely unclean. A pig was unthinkable to offer to God, Lev.11:7; cf. Is.66:3.

But the primary concern for cleanness was of persons. An Israelite was holy, compared to the nations. But the ordinary Israelite was not always, perhaps not even generally "clean." He was a little dingy, or perhaps he was filthy. It took some effort to "clean up" so as to be fit to participate in the religious life of the nation. Women typically had an excessive degree of uncleanness, being impure for (on average) probably about 10 days of every month simply on account of their monthly cycle. This meant a social and religious limitation imposed on them, because they might not be free to engage in ceremonies despite sincere desire and effort. But, they also had fewer such demands made of them on this account as well as other considerations.

Animals that were unclean were judged so mainly because they had to be avoided by people, so that the people would not become unclean by contact with an unclean beast. This was the same reason why Israelites avoided graves, why Jesus could refer to the "whitewashed tombs;" because they were marked so people would not accidentally and unnecessarily incur the unclean status on their way to a ceremony for which they needed to be clean. This was apparently the motive behind the Levite and priest avoiding the injured man in the parable of the Good Samaritan. They would lose their serviceability at the Temple in Jerusalem (among other restrictions). An unclean person was a contaminant. Lepers were contaminants. Women on their period contaminated whatever furniture, etc., they touched (not just got blood on).

3. There is some connection or overlap between the degrees of separation (profane/common/holy) and the status of one's degree. The priest had a duty to maintain his holiness, not letting contamination prevent his service. He needed to be holy and clean. His work was for purification, that Israel might stay holy to the LORD, and clean in his sight. The priest officially judged things "clean" or "unclean" (people were also duty bound to judge themselves, or provide judgments to others as they had knowledge). His works often made the difference between things being holy or not, or clean or not.

It doesn't make any sense to think of something as being profane, but "clean." It's a nonsense combination. But the Israelite who was holy, compared to the Gentile, might yet be unclean for a time, even most of the time, except for when he was called to his religious duty. Of course, the Pharisees of the NT age had turned "cleanness" into a contest of sorts. They were so proud of the fact they could be clean more than the rest of the people. They avoided occupations that would make them overly unclean. They practiced rituals that would limit (they thought) the unclean exposure they got. They were offended at Jesus, who did not avoid associations likely to bring him in contact with uncleanness. This is the Jesus whose "cleanness" was transmitted to the leper, and not the other way around. Jesus was absolutely holy, and therefore was absolutely clean. He did not have to be sure he was clean, so to keep up the quality of his degree of holiness.

The OT Israelite man was circumcised, which was a cleansing ritual. It made him "holy" and set apart from the Gentiles. It made him "clean" relative to their "unclean" uncircumcision. Baptism performs a similar function now, by formally setting the believer (professor and his child) apart from the world. The baptized is "holy," the baptized is "washed" i.e. "clean." But the Israelite could not partake of the altar and feast of the LORD only by his circumcision. He had to be clean, and he had to judge himself clean (see Lev.7:19-21). He had to examine himself. And now, the same rule applies to the baptized who desire to come to the new Feast of the Lamb. "But let a man examine himself." Is he worthy to come to the table? Is he secretly or impenintently living in sin? Is he dirtying himself by lack of repentance, and so not regarding the body and blood of the Lord, which was given to cleanse and sanctify him?

Perhaps this is helpful...
 

RobertPGH1981

Puritan Board Sophomore
The OT Israelite man was circumcised, which was a cleansing ritual. It made him "holy" and set apart from the Gentiles. It made him "clean" relative to their "unclean" uncircumcision. Baptism performs a similar function now, by formally setting the believer (professor and his child) apart from the world. The baptized is "holy," the baptized is "washed" i.e."clean." But the Israelite could not partake of the altar and feast of the LORD only by his circumcision. He had to be clean, and he had to judge himself clean (see Lev.7:19-21). He had to examine himself. And now, the same rule applies to the baptized who desire to come to the new Feast of the Lamb. "But let a man examine himself." Is he worthy to come to the table? Is he secretly or impenitently living in sin? Is he dirtying himself by lack of repentance, and so not regarding the body and blood of the Lord, which was given to cleanse and sanctify him?

Thank you for your detailed reply. It seems like there is a lot I need to learn regarding the categories you mentioned. I am assuming the way I wrote out the below information would be incorrect.

1. Unbelievers outside the Covenant community (Common, Unclean)
2. Unbelievers inside the Covenant community (Holy, Unclean) - Church Visible only; Not part of the Church Invisible
3. Believers inside the Covenant community (Holy, Clean) - Part of the Church Visible and Invisible
4. a fourth category is not possible since you cannot be unclean and holy
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Thank you for your detailed reply. It seems like there is a lot I need to learn regarding the categories you mentioned. I am assuming the way I wrote out the below information would be incorrect.

1. Unbelievers outside the Covenant community (Common, Unclean)
2. Unbelievers inside the Covenant community (Holy, Unclean) - Church Visible only; Not part of the Church Invisible
3. Believers inside the Covenant community (Holy, Clean) - Part of the Church Visible and Invisible
4. a fourth category is not possible since you cannot be unclean and holy
As I see your (reasonable) effort, you took note of two textual pairings; and then direct and cross-associated the alternatives. That's not a bad first-stab at trying to get a grasp on an investigation. The key to success is not falling in love with an elegant hypothesis, if when you plug back in the results they don't satisfy. Some people try to massage the results in order to spare the hypothesis; others try tweaking the hypothesis just a little so it looks like the results validated it. Your initial effort has shown there is more to the full data set than the simple pairings that were a door into this subject.

I prefer the concepts I suggested in my post, because they seem to do more justice to a fuller consideration of the data. So on the one hand, degree of holiness, separation unto God; to which we can also add profanity which is like finding the negative part of the number-line beyond zreo, marking separation from God. And status with respect to cleanness; an unholy thing is also unclean (and cannot be clean), and a holy thing is only serviceable if it is clean, and if it (or even a common thing) is made unclean it may not be possible to restore it and use it again. Some pots had to be broken, Lev.11:33; cf. 6:28.

And if someone shows me that my concepts seem to come short of presenting an accurate picture, or there's better terms for what I aim to teach, I hope I will not be too devoted to my pet notions that I cannot improve them.

I think it's commendable that you are thinking deeply about these things, puzzling over them, etc. If you were so inclined, you might try complementing your study with a simple (not technical or overly detailed) commentary on the book of Leviticus. Such might help by first clarifying for your own thought how the categories were first used and understood, which then is the background to the NT appropriation. An old one, accessible online, and which will profit you even if it doesn't answer every one of these questions is by Andrew Bonar. https://books.google.com/books/about/A_COMMENTARY_OF_THE_BOOK_OF_LEVITICUS.html?id=KDkXhR660ssC I myself don't agree with everything he says, but there's a good bit of meat there.
 
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